Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Taking care of business



By Michel Beaudry

She’s at it again. Organizing events and turning people on to the mountains. It’s the kind of work she thought she’d left behind long ago. But when the Whistler Film Festival people came calling last fall, Jill Dunnigan couldn’t help herself. Before she knew it, she had volunteered her Extremely Canadian Team to put on the first annual Film Festival Celebrity Race.

And by all accounts it was a raging success. Team Ski Bum, anchored by the inimitable Johnny Thrash, won top honours. And though there was some grumbling by the black-clad celebrity squads from Back East about local ringers, Dunnigan was quick to set them straight. These guys ski for a living,” she told them in her smilingly blunt way. “They should win…”

She laughs when I bring up the subject of event management. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” she admits. “I forgot how painful it is to put something like that together.” She pauses. Titters. “It must be a little like childbirth. The longer it’s been, the less you remember the pain…”

Surrounded by her Extremely Canadian cohorts, Dunnigan is winding down with a celebratory drink (or two) at the GLC after a tough day on the mountain. “We were expecting 50 people for this event,” she says. “And more than 100 showed up. I tell ya — we had to do some quick shuffling. But I think it all turned out pretty well.”

There are few companies in this valley who have successfully partnered up with the powers-that-be at Whistler-Blackcomb — and survived. Most either get swallowed up, marginalized or fall by the wayside. And if you’re in the ski teaching business, forget about it. There are more program carcasses out there than you could count.

But since its inception in 1994, Extremely Canadian — an owner-operated outfit devoted to promoting both the philosophy and leading-edge techniques of big-mountain skiing — has not only survived. It has thrived.

The secret to their success? “I guess it’s a combination of things,” Jill explains. “A lot of humour, a strong dash of passion and a great deal of persistence. And making sure that everyone who works with us reflects those qualities. From the very beginning we were fortunate to attract some great people to work in our programs — people like Wendy Brookbank and Mike Dobbin and Chris Winter and Chris Eby. They kept the fun factor really high for our guests.”